Title: Perchance
Series: Rurouni Kenshin
Rating: PG
Pairing: KenshinxKaoru
Genre: AU, Romance
Warnings: Two-year-old Yahiko. . ; And a tiny bit of Japanese-in-an-English-story, but it's somewhat necessary and doesn't really affect anything. ;
Written for: Megan, who is way cool. And whose OTP is Kenshin/Kaoru.


They met for the first time at a day care center.

She, because her mother had asked her to pick up her younger brother, who was two and definitely not able to stay at home alone. Her mother had a doctor's appointment that she couldn't miss, to try and quell the bad case of the flu she had recently caught. Picking up her little brother was the least that Kaoru could do to help out.

He, because he worked there.

---

"Neechan!" squealed a black-haired blur, leaping up from his pile of blocks to hug her around the knees. "Neechan, Neechan, baba da ba ball ball lala Neechan--"

"Nice to see you, too, Yahiko," Kaoru said, ruffling his hair affectionately. Yahiko released her leg and raised his arms up expectantly, grinning widely as she leaned down to pick him up and tuck him into her side. Immediately, his hands (sticky from something, she noticed as one patted her cheek) found her hair, tangling into the ponytail and yanking lightly. (He knew by now not to pull too hard.)

Across the room, a man stood up and walked over to them, looking curious.

Before he could ask anything, Kaoru said, "Oh, hi, I'm Kaoru, Yahiko's older sister. Our mother can't make it today, is that okay?"

"Oh, that's fine," the red-haired man replied, and when he tilted his head just so, Kaoru could see that he had violet eyes speckled in gold; it was a combination she had never seen before, perfectly unique in its strangeness, and Kaoru tried her best not to stare.

The man continued, "Your mother called us to let us know, and I see that Yahiko knows you. It's nice to meet you, Kaoru."

"Oh!" Kaoru stared, focusing so much on not staring that she was caught off guard. She shifted Yahiko further on her hip -- he was paying absolutely no attention to either of them, caught up in twisting Kaoru's hair together -- and bowed as best she could. "It's very nice to meet you to, um--"

"Kenshin," he said, returning the gesture. His lips quirked up in a quick smile which felt more gentle than hasty, and Kaoru could feel a blush threatening to build on her cheeks. It wasn't so much that he was attractive -- but he was -- or that his eyes were a weird sort of gorgeous -- but they were --, but because his attention was focused entirely on her, even as children squealed and ran about in the background.

Unnerving, really.

"Neechan, Neechan, Neechan," Yahiko was chanting, thankfully interrupting the moment. "Neechan, Neechan, Neechan, Neechan, Neechan--"

"I, um, should probably go," she stammered, hissing at Yahiko to stop. He didn't listen. Giving a nod to Kenshin and his strange, entrancing eyes, she darted out of the room.

---

Not every time was as disconcerting, really.

Kaoru found excuses to pick up Yahiko from day care from then on; not every day, but at least once a week, which was a newfound responsibility that her mother appreciated. "Oh, go take a nap, Mom," she would say, only just back from school, "You look tired, and I bet your job is harder than cram school." It took very little to convince her mother to stay, and then Kaoru would be on her mother's bike, child-seat built in, to travel the mile to the center.

Somehow, Kenshin was always first to greet her, and now, his smile seemed less unnerving and more flattering. It wasn't every day that boys paid her such close attention; even the boys at her school who claimed to like her wouldn't stop to talk about something unrelated to dating. And if Kenshin had looked at her like that, eyes dipping below her chin or down her backside, he was at least subtle enough so she didn't notice.

Yahiko also liked Kenshin, having taken to tugging at his long hair and giggling madly as it brushed into his face. The bright color seemed to fascinate him.

---

"If you'd like," Kenshin said, "Yahiko could probably stay longer."

"What?"

"Well, I noticed you're always still in your school uniform when you come," he explained, kneeling down and helping a little girl find the pacifier she dropped. He walked over to the sink and she followed, leaving Yahiko to bang happily on some blocks with a toy hammer. "It wouldn't be a hassle to keep Yahiko for another twenty minutes so you have time to change, if you'd like."

"Oh, no, it's fine," Kaoru said, shaking her head. "You're the only one working before it closes, I wouldn't want to burden you with another kid, especially one as energetic as Yahiko." Said kid was enjoying his toy hammer thoroughly, smashing it on the wall with ferocity.

"It wouldn't be," Kenshin assured. "There aren't that many children in the center near the end, so there aren't that many children, and Yahiko's always pretty good-natured." He noticed her incredulous stare and smiled, looking abashed. "Well, most of the time, anyway. He is a two-year-old."

"He's the worst two-year-old," bemoaned Kaoru, sighing dramatically. Kenshin snickered and gave the crying little girl back her pacifier, which she took gratefully, sniffling. He lifted her into his arms and rubbed her back.

"Well, you can think about it," Kenshin said. "I wouldn't mind."

Kaoru felt a brief pang in her chest.

"Thank you," she replied.

---

It quickly became habit to stop at home from cram school, quickly change into different clothes -- something cute, but she never thought of it like that because that was so... giggly -- and bike over to the day care center. Her mother never even tried to go herself anymore; right after work, she would go to her room and take a nap, and sometimes didn't even stir when Kaoru came home. She always had dinner ready when Kaoru and Yahiko returned, so Kaoru was pleased that she was given her mother some well-deserved rest. She had been rushing around so much ever since their father had died.

Besides, it gave Kaoru a decent reason to hang around Kenshin, on whom she was quickly developing a crush. Not that they ever did anything really, well, "crush-worthy", at least as far as her classmates' reasoning was concerned.

Rather, they talked.

She would stay until the day care closed; most times, she'd help him clean up at the price of some good conversation, and he cheerfully obliged. Through their discussions, she found out that he was just out of college, and was working at the day care center for a couple of years while he decided what to do. Kaoru had been nervous about his age, but she would be going to college next year, and her own parents had been seven years apart. Her crush was perfectly understandable.

Usually, they would part after the center closed, heading off in opposite directions with a quick wave and a smile.

Kaoru never really wanted to, and wondered if it'd be too much to eat with Kenshin one night instead.

---

"I was thinking," Kaoru said, but trailed off. She was at the center but was leaving earlier than usual; Yahiko had come down with a cold and was sneezing miserably in her arms, wrapped up in a blanket Kaoru had the foresight to bring.

"What?" Kenshin asked, busy changing the diaper on a squirming little girl. He was still attentive as always, but something in Kaoru wished that he'd look at her for this. Another equally important part of her rebelled fiercely against the idea, so Kaoru figured it was a fairly balanced situation.

"Well," she began, and goodness, this was hard to spit out. She abruptly understood every single romance movie she had ever seen and hated herself for it. Tentatively, she continued, "I really like talking to you, and, um, well, I was just wondering if you'd like to... go out on a date sometime?"

In the moment of silence that followed, Kaoru was positive that everyone was staring at her. Never mind that the only person over three in the room was looking away, caring for a tiny child. The only sign he had even heard her could be seen in his back, as he tensed up.

Kaoru really wished that she could take back her words.

Finally, Kenshin turned around, a faint, pensive smile on his lips. He looked up at Kaoru -- and she had never felt so exposed, her feelings lain bare for him to take as he would -- and hesitated, his smile faltering somewhat.

"Could I have time to think about it?" he asked.

It felt like a ball dropping in her chest. She hadn't expected him to immediately say "Yes," and fall into her arms, hopelessly in love (she was not so far gone in her crush that those ideas made sense.) But there was still that seed of hope that he felt the same and would agree instantly, one that was smothered out by his response.

Kaoru forced a smile on her lips, feeling shaky. Yahiko whimpered and nuzzled his face into her shoulder, and she almost felt like he was offering his (sickly) support.

"Oh, okay," Kaoru said quietly, feeling a blush burn on her cheeks.

She bid a hasty retreat, but didn't stop turning the moment around in her mind until she got home. It wasn't quite a refusal, but certainly less than the positive response she had wished for, in the deepest, most longing parts of her heart.

These fretting thoughts were banished when she arrived home, and she discovered her mother passed out on the stairs.

---

The hospital trip felt like a blur; she remembered Yahiko whining petulantly, nose red from his cold and clearly tired. She had poured some juice for him to sip on, letting him work on it until he fell into a fitful, sniffling sleep. However, Kaoru remained awake for most of the night, watching late-night shows on the television in the corner; a combination of the uncomfortable chairs and her own racing mind left her unable to rest.

When her mother was finally awake, Kaoru was let in to see her. Yahiko had woken up a few times during the night, but was currently curled up in Kaoru's arms, deeply asleep. Her mother looked at her with gray-rimmed eyes, smiling sadly.

"Kaoru," she said, slowly. "I... I have cancer."

The world shuttered and focused in on her mother, weak and strong simultaneously in the white hospital bed, and Kaoru could not find any words.

---

The week after her mother's revelation was spent in a vague state of shock; Kaoru stayed home to take care of Yahiko and help around the house while her mother made arrangements and caught up on her rest. She was missing school but didn't want to care at the moment; that could be saved for another time. Though the doctors weren't yet sure how far along the cancer was, they had said there was a chance it could have spread too far. Breast cancer, the pamphlets had said, was very common in older women.

Kaoru had only cried once, in the privacy of her own room. She thought she was doing pretty well. Her father was gone, dead from a car accident, and that had taken its toll on her already; now, with her mother ill, life was looking bleak again, and Kaoru wasn't sure she could handle it. It was all so unstable, and she struggled to keep herself afloat while worries sprung up constantly.

In the entire mess of things, Kaoru hadn't had much time to think about Kenshin past the occasional, miserable thought that she didn't have any place for silly schoolgirl crushes now. Yahiko had picked up on the somber mood around the house and dealt with it petulantly, throwing occasional fits and demanding attention.

After one such fit on Sunday, a little over a week past the hospital trip, Kaoru's mother gestured at her in exasperation.

"Oh, would you take him to the park, Kaoru?" she asked. At Kaoru's not-quite-hidden worry, she said, "Don't give me that -- the doctor's gave me some medicine and I haven't been working lately. I'll be fine. Yahiko's just needs to run around some, and you haven't been outside in days. Go on, buy yourselves lunch. I'll be fine here."

So she bundled up Yahiko, who was not in any mood to be confined to restrictive clothing and fought her every step of the way. Thankfully, once they were outside, he calmed down; Kaoru had been very close to snapping at him and storming off. (Something she knew she was too old for, but really.)

It was a pleasant day, if a little cool, and Kaoru felt a little better just being outside. It didn't help her stirring thoughts very much, but it made her feel less stifled, at the very least. Yahiko looked at everything actively from his stroller, though he didn't giggle and shriek as he sometimes did; rather, he seemed to take it all in and hold it, staring with wide, dark eyes.

She sat on a park bench and let him out to play, smiling to herself as she saw him toddling toward the sand. After awhile, Kaoru noticed a couple ladies sitting on a bench nearby looking at her oddly; when she looked back at them, one turned away, embarrassed, but the other met her eyes with a stern, disapproving stare.

Kaoru blinked at them, confused.

The disapproving lady seemed to pick up on this and turned to her friend, ignoring Kaoru once again. Kaoru was just ready to turn away, about to forget about the entire, weird thing, when she heard the lady speak.

"I can't believe teenagers these days," the woman said, clearly raising her voice for Kaoru's benefit. "No pride at all -- they're already having children of their own, can you believe that?" Her friend nodded in agreement, bemoaning the state of the nation's youth, as Kaoru sat frozen.

It took a moment to realize that they obviously thought Yahiko was her son, and in that moment, Kaoru felt hot anger rise. How dare they? Those women who had no idea, no idea about anything that was going on in her own life; how dare they presume to judge her? It was rage mixed with misplaced mortification and embarrassment; Kaoru was so angry and embarrassed that she couldn't even bring herself to yell at the women. The spark of anger had broken the dam of all her repressed emotions, and she felt herself holding back tears.

And that was just what she needed, right here in the middle of a public park--

"Kaoru?"

She could hardly keep control of her tears, but just barely managed in time for Kenshin's face to come into view. He took one look at her face -- surely red and blotchy and possibly as ugly as it could get -- and raised his eyebrows, concerned. "What's wrong, Kaoru?"

The question stirred a thousand different feelings, all mixed together within her head, and Kaoru took a deep breath. She settled on anger.

"Those women," she hissed, seething. "Those -- oh. I'm so angry I could spit."

"What'd they do?" he asked, glancing at the ladies in question. The lady who spoke looked back defiantly while the other leaned away.

"They started talking about how horrible teenagers are," Kaoru informed him, trembling. It wasn't just anger, and she knew it, but it felt good just to snap. "Because apparently, I'm a trashy single mother with a two-year-old son."

Kenshin looked and saw Yahiko, giggling as he dug his hands through the sand. He frowned momentarily, his eyes darkening. Kaoru looked down, avoiding the stares of the women as she tried her best to get a hold of her emotions; it was so embarrassing to cry in public, and she would be damned if she was going to.

A hand touched her cheek gently, nudging under her chin. Kaoru looked up, and suddenly, there was a warm mouth over hers, kissing firmly. She hardly realized it was Kenshin, too busy feeling warmth flush her cheeks. Only moments -- years -- later, the mouth was removed and she opened her eyes to see Kenshin's face inches from her own.

"If they're going to talk," Kenshin whispered, "We might as well give them something to talk about, don't you think?" He smirked slightly, a fond light in his eyes. "Now you're a trashy single mother with a hooligan boyfriend, so I bet we'll be the talk of the town."

She couldn't think of a decent response. Dimly, Kaoru heard the women's gasps of scandalized outrage, but couldn't quite find it in herself to care. Something about being kissed was leaving her with very little ability to do much more than stare at the man who did it.

Thankfully, Kenshin gave her more than enough time to recover as he glared at the women until they left in a huff. Kaoru couldn't resist smiling at that.

"I thought about what you said," Kenshin said, sitting down beside her once he was finished glaring. He continued, "And I'd like to." It looked like he was going to say more after that, but he faltered and fell silent.

Smriking shakily, Kaoru joked, "I should hope so. Random guys don't get to kiss me like that."

Kenshin laughed, glancing at her and smiling. "So," he said warmly, "if you have time, would you like to start our date? I can buy you and Yahiko lunch, and you can tell me where you've been for the past week. Does that sound good?"

And she still felt torn apart with her mother's news, worry and fear and sadness tying together inside her heart. But something calmed with Kenshin's invitation, a loose end that was now grabbed and fastened tightly. Everything was not better, but everything might just have gained a spark of light in the darkness.

"Yes," Kaoru agreed, a fond smile gracing her lips. "I think that sounds very good."